We can do better than merely returning to who we were
By Victoria C. Leo
So many of my friends, with understandable crisis-fatigue, are full of emotion about getting Back To Normal. Anger, frustration, defiance — the emotions vary. But do you really want to just re-create Old Normal? What if you chose New Transformed Life instead?
We humans will nearly always choose how we’ve always done it over any new option, even a better one. (It’s called the Einstellung Effect.) When our Old Way is blocked, we get angry. After we get over our frustration and blame, we start analyzing a Plan B. Well, COVID-19 put most of our lives in Plan B, didn’t it? And didn’t some of our Plan B’s make us blossom as people? I’ve been realizing that some of my pandemic habits have been very good for me.
I’ve been spending more time with far-flung loved ones. Instead of them nagging me to get on a plane, they have reluctantly learned Zoom, and I could not be happier. The essence of love is the sharing, the laughter, the verbal and visual comfort. I have had more of that in the past 18 months than I had in the previous five years, because of our new habits.
I’ve ignited new passions: Birding, Virtual Vacations, jigsaw puzzles. Virtual Vacations have allowed me to travel the world to places I will never visit in person, with an enriched knowledge of history and culture as well as geography. The little fluttering dinosaurs have always been in my world; now I stop and really notice and enjoy them. Jigsaws of natural wonders have been a form of forest-bathing.
I’ve amped up my learning: Through online classes at Wondrium and Coursera, as well as our local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Southern Oregon University (OLLI at SOU), where I also teach.
I’ve explored new forms of creative expression: Including my most recent obsession — rock painting.
I’ve amped-up religious studies: Via classes that I never seemed to get around to before. My superficial Jodo Shinshu practice of the past has become a deep commitment and major component of how I spend my time.
The most important and significant gain occurred because of the seeming-loss of travel, including international travel. Because I “had to” stay physically isolated, due to a very serious underlying condition, I was not distracted by travel booking, visas, packing, interminable airport queues, an entire day scrunched into a tiny seat, and other forms of hell.
Because I “had to” stay put, I moved ahead with my dream of writing novels. After spending two years learning how-to, I was going to spend 2020 inching toward my goal. Instead, I had a precious gift of time to devote to my lifelong dream. I am now at work at novel number four in a continuing science-fiction series.
We’ve all had a chance at transformation. We may have been dragooned into it, but we did it: we found new ways of exploring the world outside, or the world inside.
Some things that used to seem essential to me, never will again. I like the cost savings of take-out and the ability to have a quiet, private conversation with my husband over a meal, and will reserve indoor restaurants for people I see only rarely.
I’ve learned that I can live without 14-hour plane trips to other continents. The scenery through an Amtrak window inspires my writing and business class is quiet and laptop-friendly.
Most importantly, a lot of the seemingly important fussing and carrying-on between people? After losing seven beloved family members last year and going through the rest of drought-and-pandemic hell, I just don’t care about people’s ego games. Walking in Lithia Park? Yes. Visiting zoos and museums? You bet. The Old Normal habits that feed my inner peace? Amen. Gotta-have material needs? Fewer than I ever thought possible.
For each of us, the winnowing of the old persona is a potentially precious gift. Perhaps we can do better than merely returning to who we were in 2019. My grandfather came through four years of World War I trench warfare, two years of a deadly pandemic, cross-ocean emigration (twice) and a new country with a new language. The hell he endured burnished his soul into deep compassion and an utter inability to jump to conclusions or to condemnation. I’ve never met anyone with more equanimity—and caring.
This crisis can do the same for us, if we let it. Let’s let it.
Victoria Leo invites you to receive three free chapters of her first novel by emailing Victoria.email@example.com. With husband Rick Baird, she co-teaches hybrid online classes at various OLLIs in creativity, writing, forest bathing, astronomy and anthropology. Victoria is also the author of “101 Stress Busters,” “101 Healthy Meals in 5 Minutes or Less” and “Journey Out of SAD: Beat Winter Blues.”